Chapter 13 Power, Politics, and Values: The Canadian Health-Care System
Medicare as we know it today only became a reality for all Canadians in 1971.
Now, however, there is talk of Medicare being in crisis due to escalating cost, an aging population, and
long waiting lists.
Certain groups in society are raising questions as to whether Canadians can afford Medicare and are
advocating for more privatization of Healthcare Service.
Others argue that there is no crisis in public health care cost; rather, the escalating costs are related to
services purchased from the private sector, such as drug expenditures.
The Development of Medicare in Canada
The first initiative to establish some form of government health insurance came in 1919 as a part of the
platform of the federal Liberal party under Prime Minister Robert Borden.
However, it was not until after the Great Depression that there was a renewed interest in a national
health insurance plan; during the depression doctor’s income declined dramatically since patients were
unable to pay their bills.
By the 1930s and 40s, Canadians generally have to put their faith in allopathic medicine; however,
paying for physician and hospital services was difficult for most, including large segment of the working
and middle classes.
Although most European nations, including England, had established some former government
administered health insurance by the end of the first world war, doctors in Canada lobbied against the
idea, warming that government insurance plan would undermine the spirit of charity and turn doctors
into civil servants.
An important player was the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation party, which was formed in
o A board coalition of progressive intellectual, farmers, and vapor groups, and the CCF was
dedicated to economic reform and the establishment of a welfare state.
Ideas for a national health insurance surfaced in both Canada and the United States after the Second
World War II reinforced the importance of Keynesian economic theory, which argues for an expanded
government role in stimulating the economy and increased government expenditures for social programs
to help those in need.
The post war was one of economic prosperity; it was also a time when more Canadians demanded the
government play a central role in providing basic social services, such as health care, unemployment
insurance, and pensions.
In 1945, Prime Minister William Lloyd McKenzie King presented a proposal for national health
insurance to the Dominion Provincial Conference on Reconstitution but failed to get agreement from the
Under the terms of the British North America act, healthcare was considered largely a provincial matter;
several provinces rejected King’s plan because they saw it as a encroaching on provincial jurisdiction in
Medicare, as we know it today, had its birth in Saskatchewan and under the leadership of Tommy
In 1947, different steps in Douglas’s vision of Universal Health care was put in place; his government
introduced a province wide public hospital insurance plan, 10 years before the federal government
brought in a similar plan.
In 1960, Douglas fought and won the call provincial election under the promise to implement a universal
medical insurance plan, despite mass opposition from Saskatchewan doctors. Federal Developments